Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1295th OGM and Open Lecture

Dr Erik Aslaksen“Society as an information processing system, and the influence of the media”

Dr Erik Aslaksen FRSN

Physicist, Engineer, and Author

Date: Wednesday, 7 July 2021, 6.30 pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video 

Summary: We are concerned about our environment, and rightfully so: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and threats to this environment from global warming, loss of biological diversity, and many other concerns. These are all concerns about our physical environment, much as an ice bear is concerned about the melting of the ice, or as the koala is concerned about the reduction of its habitat due to deforestation. We are also concerned about many aspects of our society, such as overpopulation, economic growth, inequality, poverty, healthcare, and pandemics; again, concerns about physical features.

In this talk, Dr Erik Aslaksen will present a complementary view of our society — one peculiar to our species; a view of society as an information-processing system in which the physical aspects of society are both the results and the enablers of our mental processes. The system consists of individuals as processors and of the interactions between them in the form of information exchange, and as the processing capability and capacity of the individuals have not changed significantly over the last 10,000 years or so, the evolution of our society is, in this view, the evolution of this information exchange. This is an evolution characterised by the media involved and of the technology enabling them,  from the earliest cave art to the Internet. Correspondingly, our concerns for society change from the above concerns about physical features to concerns about the information exchange and the associated information technology — in particular, about the ability to use the technology to control the information flow. Two examples of this concern will be discussed; one being the increasing concentration of wealth in the West, and with it the ownership and control of the media by a small group of people; the other arising out of the fact that the world society has arrived at a unique point in its evolution, but with a great reluctance to talk about it.

Erik W. Aslaksen is an engineer and physicist, with over fifty years of industrial experience, gained in the USA, Switzerland, and Australia, and covering fields as diverse as microwave components, power electronics, quantum electronics, and telecommunications, and ranging from basic research to corporate management. He obtained a MSc (EE) from the Swiss Institute of Technology in 1962, and a PhD in theoretical physics from Lehigh University in 1968. Erik was a Director of Ewbank Preece Sinclair Knight from 1988 until 1993, a Principal of Sinclair Knight Merz from 1993 until 2003, and an Adjunct Professor at the UTS until 1995.

In recent years his main interest has been in the area of systems engineering, engineering management, philosophical aspects of engineering, and the interaction between technology and society, as well as the evolution of society. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and of the International Council on Systems Engineering, a Charter Member of Omega Alpha, and is the author of eight books (one with W.R. Belcher), four book chapters, and more than eighty papers.

His most recent publications are:

  • The Social Bond: How the interaction between individuals drives the evolution of society, Springer Nature, 2018
  • The Stability of Society, Springer Nature, 2020
  • Measures of Social Evolution, Springer Nature, 2021.
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